May 26, 2011

IPL 4 - A Few Thoughts...

I've missed Lalit Modi.

Yes, you read that right. And no, I'm not high. I guess an explanation is in order.

I do NOT miss Modi's annoying lisp. I do not miss his Lalaji personality. And I certainly do not miss his long unnecessary speeches (only the anticipation of an exciting T20 game to follow could keep one awake thru one of those). The reason I've missed Lalit Modi is that he had a special knack for getting things right, which this edition of IPL would've cried out loud for, if it had a voice.

Think back to the first season. The IPL had already been preceded by the ICL - which had no more success than Kapil paaji's many attempts to sound fluent in English. In spite of Zee's money, Kapil's experience, stars like Inzamam-aloo-Haq, and phenomenal desi talents like Reetinder Sodhi and Wrong-un Gavaskar, it barely registered on the radar, and sank without a trace. Now, IPL was conceptually more-or-less the same thing, and yet it turned out to be a phenomenal success! The key difference? Lalit Modi.

Season 2 was moved to South Africa with less than a month's notice. Note - an Indian (technically) domestic tournament - played in South Africa - and yet a huge success! This was the kind of logistical super-achievement that any biz/enterprise would be proud of. Also, the dismissive-ness with which Modi tore to shreds the sarkari red-tape that often frustrates ordinary people, was a source of joy as well. I don't remem too much of season 3, but it was good as well. Modi was in charge for these 3 seasons, and deserves a lot of credit for their success. The fourth season of IPL was going to face more challenges than the earlier ones. It needed Modi.

Some people might say he's corrupt and was a 'bad man' or whatever. I neither agree nor care. For one, he doesn't look like Gulshan Grover. But really, to me corruption is a problem when my (tax-payers) money is involved. I work hard to earn it, and I don't like it when one-third of my earnings end up financing a 40' LCD TV in the kitchen of some relative of Kalmadi's. Also, while this may not strictly qualify as corruption, I fume every time I read about the govt. blowing up my money to keep the awful travesty called Air India afloat. But as far as Modi and his dealings are concerned, I don't think taxpayers money was involved. These were dealings between private companies and individuals who were all working for profit or personal gain - and are none of my business. So, I don't care what really happened with the IPL franchises' finances and Modi, and neither should you.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at some things that've gone terribly wrong with the format this year:

1. Too many teams, too many matches. The first 3 editions - with 56 matches in the league stages - had seemed long enough. Nobody wanted to keep track of two more teams, and 14 more matches. There was interest in the first week or so, because people were suffering from cricket withdrawal symptoms right after India's WC win, but it was going to be difficult to sustain. You CAN have too much of a good thing.

2. The auction. Sport needs continuity and rivalries. Throwing all the names into a hat every couple of years disrupts the relationships with fans. Yes, there should be some player transfers, but there has to be some sort of balance between change and identity.
Also, having a pecking order is important. Teams that do well consistently earn more prize money, develop bigger, loyal fan bases, and attract the best players. Success becomes a chain reaction. Big money may be the catalyst that starts it, though history has shown time and again that big spending isn't enough to ensure success. The IPL formula of fixing a common budget may allow all teams to be almost-equally competitive, but in the long run, it doesn't help if there are no 'big clubs' and no 'underdogs'.

3. The retention and auction rules. This could become a case study for how NOT to do things. While everybody else got shuffled around and teams changed beyond recognition, the two finalists from last year - CSK and MI - still looked pretty much the same, with the highlight being Symonds joining Bhajji to better understand the subtle differences between Mumbai, monkey, and maa-ki.
Ambani, as usual, used some jugaad to get the retention rules custom-made for his franchise. So, while Delhi ended up spending 1.8 mil on Has-been Pathan, and RCB wasted the same on Saurabh Dhoni-wannabe, MI got to retain all of Sachin, Pollard, Bhajji and Malinga for just 4.5 mil! The most ridiculous part of this is - MI could negotiate much higher amounts with these players, but would have a fixed 4.5 deducted from their budget irrespective of what the players were actually being paid. This beats the whole purpose of having a budget cap, and made no sense whatsoever. Especially to Vijay Mallya.

4. Total breakdown of the local link. The earlier editions had the concept of an icon player for each team, and local players from a 'catchment area'. So Punjab was led by Yuvraj Singh, and had guys like Sunny Singh, Sunny Sohal, VRV Singh, Manvinder Singh Bisla and so on. For better or worse, it looked and felt like a Punjab team, and being a Punjabi, I really supported them. This year, Zinta & co have pulled together a bunch of Aussies, a couple of UP fellas and someone called Paul Valthaty (Mallu? Konkani? What?) to play for them wearing - what the owner says he wants it to look like - an Arsenal uniform. I don't know how the English do it, but I just couldn't get myself to accept & support this team of imports.

5. The choice of new franchises. I don't understand why Pune has one, if they have to play in Mumbai. Why not add an Ahmedabad, or a Kanpur, or an Indore? All these cities have good stadia, and massive support for the game. It would also create interest among local players. Pune is like Man City to Mumbai's United. They played a 'home game' against MI in Mumbai - and that's just messed up.
Even more messed up was the DJ/MC trying to get people in Indore to yell 'Kochi... Tuskers... Kochi... Tuskers'. Now, Kochi is physically, linguistically, culturally, everything-ally more distant from Indore than just about every other franchise. If I was a cricket fan in Indore watching an IPL game, I would definitely feel great WTF-ness about KTK being shoved down my throat as a 'home' team.

And yes, that atrocity called Pune's desi-folksy 'cheerleaders'. I think the players deliberately performed badly because they were embarrassed by their 'cheerleaders'. If I was batting with the knowledge that those things would get up and do their thing every time I hit a boundary, I'd rather get out. Does anyone have a better explanation of how that batting line-up ended up being 40/4 in just about every match? They're probably also the reason why Rahul Sharma bowls with one eye closed.

6. Scheduling. Smaller issues aside, why did the final have to be the day after the 2nd qualifier? Why couldn't RCB be given a day's rest? The result: we got robbed off a good contest, partly because the Bangalore team looked tired, and I have nothing to do on Sunday night. Not saying RCB would've won, but a Sunday final would've made so much more sense.

Basically, this was the longest IPL, the only one without any super-overs, dominated by Gayle, and eventually won - like everything else - by Dhoni. Overall, below expectations. And I'd like to believe Lalit Modi would've made a bit of a difference...

1 comment:

  1. i agree. ipl has so much potential but the board that controls and kills cricket in india (Bcci) is doing an excellent job at mismanaging the whole show.